Most things advertised as free have a catch to them, but there’s no catch to UNH Cooperative Extension’s Free Seed Program. In its third year, 20 packets of seeds are sent out for the asking to schools, homeschool families and education-based organizations. “We’ve got over 550 orders so far this year,” says Master Gardener Gary Sheehan, who initiated and has led the program for the last three years. “Our first year, we had 175 orders, and last year we had 230 orders.”
Gary got the idea after hearing of a similar Master Gardener program at the University of Rhode Island Cooperative Extension. “At first I had no idea how to go ahead, so I, and four or five other Master Gardeners, pounded the pavement visiting local garden shops asking for discarded seed packets and started collecting.” They found that, not only did smaller garden centers throw away the past season’s expired seed packets, but so did larger stores, such as Walmart and Home Depot, who are frequent contributors. Although “the seeds are technically expired by a month or so when we get them,” Gary says, “germination tests conducted the past two years showed the seeds were viable.”
The range of seeds is expansive. There are 61 vegetables, including tomatoes, watermelon and lettuces, to exotic seeds, such as bok choy and Asian greens. There are 57 types of flowers, and 29 herbs. The Free Seeds program is supported by the NH Master Gardener Alumni Association, NH School Youth Garden Network and Strawbery Banke Museum, which provides 13 types of heirloom seeds from their museum. Portsmouth and Amherst garden clubs also donate funds to support the seed program. Additional donations are welcome and will help cover the mailing fees. More information and order forms are available or contact Gary
A former employee of semi-conductor testing companies in Massachusetts, California and New Hampshire, Gary retired in 2016. He became a Master Gardener in 2007. “Gardening has been a part of my life forever, since I dug up my parents’ backyard for a garden as a young teenager,” says Gary who grew up in Billerica, Mass. The father of three grown children, Gary has a garden at his Londonderry home and grows “a little of everything — fruit, flowers, herbs and veggies.”
Sarah Marcoux, and her 18-year old son Joseph, a University of New Hampshire student, became Master Gardeners in 2016 and have been volunteers for the Free Seeds program since late summer 2018. When Gary told Sarah about the program, she thought it was great idea and asked him how she could help. The program is growing and if any Master Gardeners want to volunteer to join the program, they can contact Ruth Smith, Master Gardener Coordinator for details.
Sarah is one of eight regular Master Gardeners who volunteers to work Tuesdays — collecting, sorting, and shipping seed packets at the UNH Extension Education Center in Goffstown. Orders go out to schools, scout troops, 4-H clubs, community gardens and any education-based or youth group. Seeds have been sent to groups in every New Hampshire county. Sarah, a Northfield resident, says she has noticed many requests from homeschoolers. “As a homeschooler and Master Gardener, I’m thankful for this” free seed program and Gary’s involvement with the program. “Gary is dedicated to anything he does and a great encourager to anybody he works with,” says Sarah. “He also is incredibly humble.”
Pauline Bogaert, also known as “Peeps," became a UNH Extension Master Gardener in 2006, and Natural Resources Steward several years later. She was a staff writer for newspapers in California, Ohio and the last 16 years a feature writer and society columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer.
UNH Cooperative Extension Master Gardener volunteers share information about home, yard, and garden topics with the people of New Hampshire. Got questions? Master Gardeners provide practical help finding answers to your questions through the Ask UNH Extension Infoline. Call toll free at 1-877-398-4769, Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., or e-mail us at email@example.com.